Ten years ago, high school sweethearts Angela and David Gonzales were anticipating the arrival of their third child, a boy named Daniel. But at 29 weeks gestation, Daniel was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease, a rare genetic disorder, and would not survive outside the womb.
After his birth and death, Angela, a nurse, spent four months in isolation, shutting out family and friends. She knew she needed help, but didn’t know where to turn.
At a friend’s urging, Angela formed a small support group, as both she and her friend knew other mothers who also had endured the loss of a baby. Soon, five women came together one evening in October 2010 to share their stories and A Legacy of Love began.
Angela will be sharing her story at A Legacy of Love’s annual candlelight vigil on Sunday, Oct. 11 in Exeter. Nationally and internationally, October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
Like a cruel double-sided coin, the support group is growing.
“When we first started holding the vigil in 2011, we had about 50 people,” Gonzales said. “This year, we will have approximately 200 people.”
But what makes Gonzales happy is the fact that her son’s legacy is living on in families throughout the county, particularly at the support group’s monthly meetings.
“I have learned so much about death and grief and survival from hearing and sharing with other families,” Gonzales said. “Often times, I sit back and am completely overcome with pride that my son, who never met any of these people, has left a legacy through me that helps families during their darkest moments. The connections I see happen at every meeting are incredibly healing to my soul.”
At those monthly meetings, attendees are offered friendship and comfort in a non-judgmental and non-religious environment. Pre-COVID-19, the group gathered at Gateway Church in Visalia, and will return to meeting there when safe, Gonzales said. Due to an increased need for support during quarantine, the meetings are now held at a private home in Exeter. Spouses and partners are always welcome to attend.
“People can share their experiences, frustrations, victories and regrets,” Gonzales said. “There are tears, but more importantly, there is lots of laughter. It is a kinship like no other and often people say they feel most comfortable at group, with strangers, than speaking about their child with family and friends.”
A Legacy of Love originally began with just mothers, but members learned that fathers were also interested in attending and finding support.
“There is absolutely nothing by way of male group support for pregnancy and child loss,” Gonzales said. “I believe society has made it the focus to attend to the mothers, as they are the ones who bear the child. However, it is also the father’s child, and they mourn the loss of their baby as well. We are now happy and proud to say our group has seen a 100 percent increase in partner attendance.”
Gonzales said group members are most proud of fulfilling their mission to bring awareness to pregnancy and infant loss, and to shed light on the profound effect it has on families.
“It is important to me because there is no other loss quite like losing a child to death,” she said. “No one speaks of it, it is not a topic of interest to those who can’t understand, it is a taboo subject and brings about unexplainable fear to those who have never experienced this sort of loss.”
To help families, group members meet individually with those needing one-on-one support, attend conferences to improve their skills in assisting the bereaved, send cards to families on their child’s due, birth and/or loss date, as well as provide their personal information to area obstetricians to use in their practice as needed.
Ten years ago when Angela delivered her son, she worked at Kaweah Delta in the mother/baby unit. Going through that experience completely changed her nursing practice, and she was able to facilitate many changes to better serve families of loss, she said, with some of those practices still in use.
“I occasionally get phone calls from former co-workers when they have a family they think might benefit from immediate contact with me,” she said. “This is yet another way in which my son’s legacy lives on.”